Hut­ton gets ‘clean slate’

Ben Hut­ton is fit, fo­cused and ready to re-es­tab­lish his ros­ter spot

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - SPORTS - BEN KUZMA

Ben Hut­ton looked fit and sounded re­ju­ve­nated Thurs­day.

A ramped-up off-sea­son fit­ness reg­i­men with the high-scor­ing Claude Giroux, and a clean-slate pledge from Travis Green, could be keys to keep­ing the much-ma­ligned Van­cou­ver Canucks’ de­fence­man out of the coach’s dog­house this sea­son.

The Prescott-born blue liner of­ten looked de­feated and sounded at a loss to sum­ma­rize a sorry NHL sea­son in which he had but six as­sists, lost the trust of Green and lost a ros­ter spot. Scratched seven times in a span of 15 games — in­clud­ing four straight in Fe­bru­ary — he looked like he was at the ca­reer cross­roads. Yet, he never asked to be traded.

“A year like that drains your con­fi­dence,” ad­mit­ted Hut­ton. “It’s go­ing to be about not grip­ping the stick too tight or think­ing too much. It’s about get­ting that con­fi­dence back. I have to know I can make plays instead of just chip­ping pucks off the boards.

“It’s just play­ing the smart con­fi­dent hockey that I know I can play and es­tab­lish my spot.”

Green al­ways con­tended last sea­son that noth­ing changed in his view of Hut­ton. He be­lieved a guy who fin­ished sec­ond in rookie as­sists (24) and third in points (25) in 2015-16, still has an of­fen­sive up­side, even though he doesn’t play the power play.

What he wanted from Hut­ton was bet­ter fo­cus and a ded­i­ca­tion to be­ing a con­sum­mate pro on the prac­tice ice and in the gym. He had to change the op­tics.

Hut­ton’s happy-go-lucky man­ner was of­ten linked to not car­ing and not be­ing that care-free rookie who once moved pucks at ease and strug­gled to es­cape the forecheck last sea­son. And be­cause he was sev­enth in two de­fen­sive categories—68blocks and 40 hits — his phys­i­cal pres­ence and battle level were of­ten wan­ing.

Green wanted Hut­ton to put in the work.

“We chal­lenged him,” said the coach. “He had a hard year and I’m not go­ing to say I didn’t make it hard on him — I did. I wasn’t happy with some things and it didn’t put him in a spot to be the best player he can be. I thought there’s a lot more in his game.

“It’s a clean slate and, trust me, if Ben Hut­ton is ready to roll he’s go­ing to play.”

Green likes his left-rights hot com­bi­na­tion sand maybe that speaks to his be­lief in Hut ton. With Alex Ed l er, Michael Del Zotto, Der­rick Pouliot, Olli Juolevi and Ash­ton Saunter as left-shot op­tions, Hut ton and Poul iot could be in a ros­ter battle—al­though Pouliot can also play the right side.

“Ev­ery player faces ad­ver­sity, whether it’ s get­ting hit with the in­jury bug or for me, get­ting scratched,” said Hut­ton. “I thought last year was tough at times and did my best to han­dle it.

“And Travis has been noth­ing but hon­est and straight up with me. If I have a good camp and pre-sea­son, I can earn my ice. There’ s a clean sheet. We have no hard feel­ings.

“I worked hard over the sum­mer. I had a new trainer, did a lot of cir­cuit train­ing and my test­ing went well. I’ m down in weight (203) and my body fat is real low.”

Giroux made quite the im­pres­sion on Hut ton. At age 30, the Philadel­phia Fly­ers’ cen­tre is com­ing off a mon­ster 102-point sea­son (34-68) and fin­ished sec­ond in league scor­ing to Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers’ pivot Con­nor McDavid, who recorded 108 points.

“Giroux is from the Ot­tawa area and said he wanted me in his group,” re­called Hut­ton. “We chal­lenged each other and went eye-to-eye and hand-to-hand and you see how hard he works. It re­ally helped me be­cause I want to be gritty to play against, take pucks to the net and be a guy you hate to play against.”

Hut­ton’s strug­gles are quite the de­par­ture of a rookie who was all about the power of pos­i­tive think­ing.

At the en­cour­age­ment of his Univer­sity of Maine coach, he was urged to read books about the tri­umph of mind over mat­ter and how to ac­cen­tu­ate the good and re­duce the bad in any cir­cum­stance.

On Thurs­day, he joked about find­ing those books again for a re­fresher read­ing course.

“My coach at Maine (Den­nis ‘Red’ Gen­dron) was re­ally big on mind­set and he had us read a few books be­cause you need con­fi­dence to make plays when I’ m jump­ing in and out of the rush,” said Hut­ton.

He got everybody’s at­ten­tion in the Canucks’ or­ga­ni­za­tion af­ter 15 goals in 35 games dur­ing the 2013-14 Hockey East sea­son in which he was a first-team all-star. But then a drop off next sea­son to nine goals with the strug­gling Black Bears — they were 8-12-2 in con­fer­ence play at 22-34-5 over­all—ac­tu­ally made Hut­ton a bet­ter player. He had to de­fend bet­ter and take few chances of­fen­sively.

Now he has to de­fend and take chances.

AP PHOTO/STACY BENGS

Van­cou­ver Canucks Ben Hut­ton con­trols the puck in front of Min­nesota Wild's Mikael Granlund in the first pe­riod of an NHL hockey game Sun­day, Jan. 14, 2018.

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